FFRF Legal Victories

Church trailers forced from Arizona school

FFRF action got trailers covered with church ads out of a parking lot at Vista Grande High School in Casa Grande, Ariz., where Sun Valley Christian Church rents space on weekends. The church was leaving its trailers in the lot all week.

A local FFRF member sent a letter to Superintendent Shannon Goodsell on June 19. The letter outlined why it’s inappropriate to give a church free space and advertising access at a public school.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted Goodsell on July 17 after the district ignored the citizen’s complaint. Seidel stressed that the trailers should only be present during rental hours.

Goodsell responded the next day that the church had removed its trailers.


No more baccalaureate, graduation prayers

FFRF caused an Arkansas school to disassociate itself from future religious baccalaureate services after Dardanelle High School officially invited graduating seniors to attend the May 19 service. The school let a minister hold a 15-minute mandatory assembly where he told students about the service. The school advertised the service in its official list of important “senior activities” and teachers promoted the program in school announcements. 

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott contacted Superintendent John Thompson on June 26, requesting the district not promote, coordinate or organize the service.

Thompson responded July 19 that less than 20% of graduating seniors attended the 2013 baccalaureate. “We will take steps to completely disassociate the district and school from the services. There should be no perceptions of any role played by the school, no sponsorship, and no student has been or will be compelled to attend such.”

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Attendees at Ross Beatty Junior/Senior High School graduation in Cassopolis, Mich., contacted FFRF after the ceremony opened and closed with a prayer, both led by students. The prayers were scheduled in the program.

Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert contacted Superintendent Tracy Hertsel in a May 22 letter, explaining that by scheduling graduation prayers, the school district was promoting religion.

Hertsel responded July 11 that FFRF’s concerns were shared with the senior class adviser, who oversees graduation. “We do not anticipate a recurrence [of the prayers],” Hertsel wrote.


Faux Constitution classes canceled

An FFRF complaint resulted in cancellation of two Constitution summer classes in Springboro, Ohio, that had religious ties. 

FFRF’s first letter to Springboro Community City Schools in 2011 warned the district that a proposal to teach creationism wrapped in history to counter the alleged “controversy” around evolution was unconstitutional. The board tabled the plan.

Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote another letter June 4 to School Board President Kelly Kohls about proposed changes to the board’s “Controversial Issues” and “Religious/Patriotic Ceremonies and Observances” policies. Included are gun rights, pro-life/abortion, contraception/abstinence, legalization of drugs and evolution/creation.

Kohls, who is also a Warren County tea party activist, told the Dayton Daily News after the June 4 meeting that “We’re going to leave it on first reading for quite a while.” Springboro is a city of about 18,500 people, with about 1,900 students at Springboro High.

Kohls stated earlier that “Creationism is a significant part of the history of this county. It is an absolutely valid theory, and to omit it means we are omitting part of the history of this country.”

Markert wrote another letter June 26 to the board after learning about two proposed summer school courses. The first was a 12-week Constitution course developed by the Institute on the Constitution.

The flier said participants would “learn [their] Godly American heritage and birthright.” David Barton of Wallbuilders and John Eidsmoe of the Foundation for Moral Law in Montgomery, Ala., were video instructors for the course. Both consistently have stated the false notion that America is a Christian nation.

Barton, a Texan, has been described as a “Christian historical revisionist.” He often teams up with conservative commentator/author Glenn Beck. Eidsmoe has a law and theology degrees and is an ordained pastor in the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations. He’s said publicly that Alabama had “a constitutional right to secede” and that “Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun understood the Constitution better than did Abraham Lincoln and Daniel Webster.” He was “disinvited” from a 2010 tea party rally in Wausau, Wis., because of those statements.

The second course was titled “The Making of America,” and was organized by the National Center for Constitutional Studies. A daylong seminar was scheduled for Aug. 3. The flier said participants are “invited to help Springboro Schools evaluate this nationally renowned course on the U.S. Constitution.”

News outlets in the area reported July 4 that the school board had canceled the not-so-constitutional classes due to FFRF complaints and community opposition.


Wisconsin school buses go Gideon-free

FFRF formally complained about a bus driver for Medford Area Middle School in Medford, Wis., making an unauthorized stop to let a Gideons International bible pusher board the bus to distribute bibles to students. A concerned parent reached out to FFRF. Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott contacted District Administrator Pat Sullivan in a May 16 letter, telling him courts have ruled that giving Gideons access to the students is illegal.

Sullivan responded July 3 that Elliott’s letter had been sent to the contractor responsible for the school’s bus service. Sullivan asked the company to “please make sure that this type of activity does not happen in the future.”


FFRF keeps sushi discounts secular

A couple dining at Tokyo Japanese Restaurant in Fairhope, Ala., informed FFRF about a sign hanging in the door advertising a 10% discount on Sundays only to diners who bring in a church bulletin. Staff Attorney Liz Cavell contacted restaurant manager Adam Hwang on July 16, informing him such a discount violates federal law.

Cavell asked that the discount either be discontinued or made available to all.

The manager responded July 16 that the restaurant removed the flier advertising the discount. “We hope you understand that we not only respect all religious but also nonbelievers,” he said.


FFRF downs cross
at Texas school

After getting a local complaint, FFRF Staff Attorney Liz Cavell wrote Brock [Texas] Independent School District Superintendent Richard Tedder on June 13 about a framed cross at Brock Elementary.

Tedder answered by email July 15: “The cross was located in the elementary office and removed. Have a BLESSED day!”

FFRF wishes Tedder and his school district a secular school year.


Church lady banned from N.H. school

A concerned resident of the Concord [N.H.] School District contacted FFRF about a woman who prayed loudly outside Concord High School and held her hands toward students to pray over them as they entered the school. She also recited bible verses for at least 15 minutes each day at the entrance. Both activities were approved by the principal.

On July 2, Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter of objection to Superintendent Christine Rath. Shortly after FFRF received the local complaint, the Concord Monitor covered the woman’s antics in a front-page story.

Rath responded July 12 that the woman is no longer allowed to pray on school property. The complaint generated much media coverage.


Religious song goes
off the program

Action by the Freedom From Religion Foundation ended a public school’s promotion of a religious song.

An elementary school in Rancho Cordova, Calif., promoted the song “America” as their song of the month late last year. The song includes several appeals to the Christian God, including reference in the last verse about “Our fathers’ God to Thee/Author of liberty/To Thee we sing” and ending with “Protect us by Thy might/Great God our King.”

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted Superintendent Deborah Bettencourt in January about the religious song.

Bettencourt answered July 10, saying that the song has not been used since the district received FFRF’s letter.


Last graduation prayer at Arkansas academy

A concerned local resident in Fayetteville, Ark., contacted FFRF after Haas Hall Academy’s 2013 graduation began with a prayer. After Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote a letter of complaint to Superintendent Martin Schoppmeyer, the school’s counsel emailed Elliott on July 2.

“There will be no prayer at the upcoming Haas Hall Academy graduation,” the attorney wrote. “The program will reflect a moment of silence or something similar (i.e., not an introductory prayer).”


FFRF complaint deflates basketball prayer

Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert contacted the two Kentucky school district superintendents responsible for a pregame prayer circle at Monticello High School, in which a basketball coach led the prayer.

“The district must educate [the coach] and all district employees that they may not lead, encourage, or participate in student prayer,” Markert wrote.

State Department of Education counsel responded July 1 that she instructed the staff not to participate in student-led prayer or lead prayer themselves. “It is our hope that the separation of church and state continue in all our school districts.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation